Sleaze and sleazy

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Sleaze and sleazy

Post by David Roberts » Thu Nov 06, 2014 11:56 pm

I'm new to this club! Looking at the discussion on origins of sleaze and sleazy, it looks like the last posting was in 2009. Nobody seems to have mentioned a possible slavonic origin for the modern use of these words. Sliz' is Russian for slime, and sliznyak is the Russian for slug. If the modern use of sleazy meaning sordid, slimy (figuratively)... dates from the 1940s, that could fit. Maybe it comes to English from the slavic immigrants to the USA.

[Link to previous discussion added — Forum Admin.]
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Re: Sleaze and sleazy

Post by Phil White » Fri Nov 07, 2014 2:02 am

Nice idea. As you say, "СЛИЗЬ" is indeed slime or mucus, or a number of other things I prefer not to dwell on.

Personally, I find it most odd that a word should pretty well disappear from the attested records only to reappear decades later in a different, but not entirely unrelated meaning with no trace of the transition.

If the two meanings come from different sources, it doesn't explain the (sudden?) loss of the original meaning. Did people stop importing cheap and nasty cloth from Silesia? Or was it just that the word went out of fashion as some words do?

Your suggestion seems to me to be as plausible as anything else. Perhaps there was some mixture of the two, i.e. Slavic migrants came across a pre-existing word (albeit rarely used) with a negative meaning and overlaid a new meaning.

Sadly, I think this one will stay in the "origin unclear" category.
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Re: Sleaze and sleazy

Post by Phil White » Fri Nov 07, 2014 2:35 am

A quick look at the Google ngram for sleazy and then some tweaking gives this set of results for the years 1900 - 1940.

Two items stuck out for me:
He thus seemed to condone a sleazy political trick by which, if you didn't like one end of the Republican ticket, you could shut your eyes and vote for the other.

LIFE, 14 October 1940
For centuries the sleazy cotton dress has been the symbol of the poor but virtuous heroines in American literature who never had any fun.

LIFE, 8 May 1939
Both are from the same publishing house, within 18 months of each other, with the 1940 one clearly carrying the new meaning and the 1939 one clearly carrying the old meaning. It would seem that the two meanings coexisted for a brief while.

Also, the Google ngram fills in a few gaps between the end of the 19th century and the 1940s, so there is no real hiatus. It seems to me that the new meaning supplanted the old extremely rapidly as of the 1940s.
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Re: Sleaze and sleazy

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Nov 07, 2014 2:59 am

.. welcome David from one David to another, albeit an Aussie David ..

.. I can see the Slavonic connection but for me the interest would be in the etymology of the russian words >> sliz, sliznyak .. did they also have a connection to the poor quality cloth of Silesia?? .. over time we have often, in our forums, proposed connections to foreign language words to explain a meaning but never do we consider the etymology of the foreign word and if it has cross-connections to the english word ..

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Re: Sleaze and sleazy

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Nov 07, 2014 3:53 am

Perhaps it's worth mentioning here that the Russian verb слизать (slizat') means 'to lick off', which adds yet another lecherous connotation to the possible Russian connection.

The same verb also has the secondary colloquial meaning of 'to copy' (an idea, etc), with overtones similar to those pertaining to the English expression 'to rip off'.
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